Out for Coffee…with Minister Ruairi Quinn

Ruairi Quinn

Ruairi Quinn

Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn got up at 7am. Tuning in to RTE Radio One, he went to his closet and picked out a suit he had his eye on the day before and sat down to some breakfast while perusing the morning newspapers.

Some of the stories he reads are old news but some may need his immediate attention. He then met with educational officials, where the importance of teacher training was discussed. It’s here, at the Dept. of Education on Marlborough Street, just after 11am, that I sit down with the Minister for coffee.

“Minister, you have a really nice office,” I say in awe of the room that looks like something from Downton Abbey with its coved ceiling, large brown desk and red carpet. “It’s pretty nice, I have to say,” he replies.

Ruairi Quinn is smaller than he looks on TV, he has a round face and small, square glasses. I ask about his upbringing. “I grew up in a political household where politics was always discussed,” he says. His father – who was very “opinionated” but very “democratic”, was a staunch Fianna Fáil supporter, while his Mother was a diehard member of Fine Gael.

His family life shared his political perspective. He attended Blackrock College, studied hard, and took over as head of the Debating Society. As its chief, he became tired with the same debate format every week. So he and a friend, Steve Coughlan decided to create a mini United Nations, for which they got into serious trouble due to some controversial views. That moment, gave him his first taste of the political arena, one filled with pressing issues, hard choices and serious people.

“Why politics?” I ask.

“What really brought me into it,” the Minister says as he pauses to dissect the immediate thought, “was an interface of two things; the 1968 student movement and the disastrous School of Architecture at UCD.” He moved from Blackrock College to UCD, where he became an architecture student. He organised a sit-in for 48 hours after the future of the University’s programme was threatened with closure.

This is where he made a remarkable rise into mainstream politics. After graduating from UCD, he became a player in the world of Labour politics. First, he was elected to the Dublin City Council, then elected as Senator, then Minister for Enterprise and Employment, then Minister for Finance and of course Leader of the Labour Party.

“What’s it like to lose in politics?” I ask.

“The victories are very public, and the defeats are very public, and that can be hard as an individual, although you don’t stay in it unless you can accept that. It can be hard for the people around you, because they know you’re hurt. Politics is an addiction for which there is no cure, not even constant humiliation.”

“What’s it like to win in politics?” I ask.

“Brilliant, just brilliant, success in politics always has many fathers or originators; you have to persuade people, compromise with them, or dilute the ownership”.

The Minister is just one part of a political coalition, one man who has been susceptible to some serious criticism. He is extremely confident in his abilities as Minister, is very conscious of his position in public life and is adept in the pursuit of his policies.

Above: Ruairi Quinn, centre, sees off a cycle event for the Irish Cancer Society in Sandymount.